From ice cream to jelly beans to pretzels, some of America's most iconic brands welcome visitors to their factories for an up-close look at how your favorite foods are made.
You probably spotted Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Snyder's Pretzels, and Tabasco Sauce on your last stroll through a supermarket. They're universally available products, but did you know that in most cases, each is made in one single production facility? From Connecticut to California, iconic food companies offer tours of their factories to give you an up-close look at how they're made.
1. Ben & Jerry's: Waterbury, Vermont
For ice-cream fiends and casual consumers alike, a visit to the Ben & Jerry’s production facility in Vermont is a veritable pilgrimage. The factory typically cranks out its dairy delights on a daily basis, but guided tours run regardless of whether or not ice cream is being made—and yes, you’ll get to sample the wares either way. Afterwards, stop by the gift shop for some swag, order a full-size cone at the scoop shop, and pay your respects to pints of yesteryear at the Flavor Graveyard. If that’s not enough, go for the VIP Flavor Fanatic Experience, a hands-on affair that includes a tour, time in the lab where you’ll help create a flavor, and a tie-dyed lab coat of your very own.
30-minute guided factory tours run seven days a week, with varied hours depending on the season and tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. Adults ages 13-59, $4; seniors 60 and up, $3; kids under 12, free. Flavor Fanatic Experience, $175 per person. benjerry.com
2: Snyder Pretzels: Hanover, Pennsylvania
German and Swiss German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, and their culinary traditions still remain. There’s the Yuengling brewery, for one, the oldest brewery in the country. And then there are pretzels. Pennsylvania produces about 80% of pretzels sold in America and perhaps no company is better known than Snyder’s of Hanover, which opened in 1909 and still uses some of the original recipes. In addition to a crash course in the early commerce of Pennsylvania, a visit to the factory provides a peek at how the pretzels are made, with at look at the raw materials, the historic ovens where they bake massive amounts of the twists each day, and the elaborate packing system. Head off with a free bag of the snack and you’ll never look at a vending machine the same way again.
Free 30 minutes tours offered at 10:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:00p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; reservations required. snydersofhanover.com.
3. Jelly Belly: Fairfield, California
From birthday cake to dirty dishwater, toasted marshmallow to stinkbug, Jelly Belly is known for its out-there flavors, and if you’ve ever wondered how those mind-boggling combinations came to be, a visit to Fairfield is in order. Self-guided tours overlooking the factory are available every day, but to see it in full swing, visit on a weekday, when the quarter-mile floor is in operation. High-def videos, interactive games and exhibits, and free samples round out the experience; there’s even a jelly-bean art gallery on the premises, and a café serving bean-shaped pizzas and burgers. For a more in-depth look at the candy-making experience, enroll in Jelly Belly University, which will get you down on the factory floor for a guided tour.
The factory runs Monday through Friday, but free self-guided tours are available every day from 9:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. JBU tour, $59 per person; reservations required. jellybelly.com
4. PEZ: Orange, Connecticut
This iconic sweet started in 1927 as a small peppermint-candy operation in Austria (“PEZ” is actually an abbreviation of “pffefferminz,” the German word for peppermint), and it's become a global phenomenon that continues to intrigue. Fun fact: In 1993, the first pop-culture auction at Christie’s featured old dispensers. Trivia like that abounds at the PEZ factory’s visitor center in Orange, Connecticut. There are interactive exhibits and, of course, the largest collection of Pez dispensers on Earth, including many vintage items. The museum-like display overlooks the packaging production area, and “in-depth candy demonstrations” wrap up with samples of freshly made sweets.
Visitors Center open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Adults $4; $3 kids 3-6; free under 3. Demos are offered daily at 1:15 PM, 2:15PM, 2:45PM, and 3:15PM and cost $3. us.pez.com
5. Tabasco Sauce: Avery Island, Louisiana
On bucolic Avery Island, about 140 miles west of New Orleans, there are vast expanses of sustainable hot-pepper fields, an oak-tree jungle, and the fifth-generation family-run factory that annually turns out enough "Cajun ketchup" to reap $200 million in worldwide sales. A visit here offers more than a look at the production facility. The 10-stop self-guided tour gets you access to the museum, which tells the story of the iconic condiment, beginning in 1868 when Edmund McIlhenny created a pepper sauce to jazz up the lackluster fare of the Reconstruction South, as well as the greenhouse, the mash house (where you’re offered a face mask because of the stinging pepper heat in the air), the blending and production facility, the barrel warehouse, a conservatory, and more. Wrap up the day with dinner at Tabasco Restaurant 1868 and a shopping spree at the country store.
Self-guided tours offered daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tickets $5.50. tabasco.com/visit-avery-island/
6. Celestial Seasonings: Boulder, Colorado
The Celestial Seasonings production plant in Boulder is situated on Sleepytime Drive, but a visit here is nothing less than invigorating. Free, daily 45-minute tours give you a close-up look at the process of tea making—cleaning, cutting, sifting, blending, and packaging the herbs, spices, and tea leaves that are shipped all over the world to make 1.6 billion (yes, billion) cups of tea each year. You’ll also visit the sampling bar, where the list includes 100 kinds of tea. Should you need fortification before you get on your way, check out the Celestial Café, which offers an extensive salad bar and lots of grilled items. It’s adorned with original paintings of the images you'll recognize from the packaging, some of which you’ll also find on the memorabilia in the adorable shop.
Free tours run every hour on the hour from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. celestialseasonings.com/visit-us
7. Taza Chocolate: Somerville, Massachusetts
The hand-carved granite millstone takes center stage at the tour of the Taza Chocolate factory, a small but mighty facility just outside Boston. You'll learn that the primitive-looking contraption grounds the cacao beans to make the brand's signature chocolate discs, a uniquely gritty, tasty treat that pays tribute to the way chocolate was originally made. Expert guides will explain the fair-trade philosophies that dictate how ingredients are sourced, and needless to say, the tour includes a tasting. The chocolate-grinding room is on view from the shop. As to be expected from a chocolate factory, a visit here is particularly kid-friendly, with activities like Cacoa Scouts Bingo and Chocolate Story Time offered on the weekends. All that's missing is Charlie, Grandpa Joe, and Willie Wonka.
Intro to Stone Ground Chocolate tour runs Tuesday through Sunday at 2:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. $8 per person; reservations required. Cacao Scouts Bingo is $6; Story Time is free. tazachocolate.com
8. Holualoa Kona Coffee Company: Holualoa, Hawaii
What's not to love about fresh roasted coffee and beautiful island environs? At the heart of the Big Island’s Kona coffee belt is the Holualoa Kona Coffee Company, perched on a hilltop overlooking the coast and producing organically farmed java, milled and roasted on site. Tours are self-guided, so caffeine connoisseurs can wander through the orchards at their own pace (no herbicides or pesticides are used on the grounds, and only organic fertilizers, so you can linger without any chemical concerns). Be sure to check out the mill, then visit the packing room and gift shop to sip a free cup of joe and pick up a bag or two of beans to take home as a souvenir.
Free self-guided tours run Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. konalea.com
9. Tillamook Creamery: Tillamook, Oregon
Tillamook, Oregon's largest tourist attraction, makes cheese, ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, and butter for a daily audience of 10,000-some visitors annually. Now, after a major architectural upgrade, the main production facility boasts sleek wood-and-steel digs sprawling across 42,800 square feet, a dining area with outdoor seating, a new menu created by Portland chef Sarah Schafer, an augmented ice cream counter serving up Tillamook flavors, a new coffee and yogurt bar, a shop, and most importantly, an upgraded perspective on the production and packaging operations. Take a look at how the cheese gets made, spend a little time with the farm exhibit and learn about the cows (and technology) behind the dairy-making magic, and taste as many samples as you can handle. Try the cheese curds before you leave—this is the only place you’ll find ‘em.
The creamery is open daily for free self-guided from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., early November to mid-June, and 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. the rest of the year. tillamook.com
10. The Great American Popcorn Company, Galena, Illinois
The family-owned Great American Popcorn company produces over 150 flavors of popcorn, from sweet options like caramel pecan and cinnamon toast, to savory flavors like jalapeno pepper and zesty ranch, all made with non-GMO corn. As you’d imagine, the facility, a simple storefront located downtown Galena, a quaint small town about 160 miles west of Chicago, is a far cry from the movie theater concession counter. Sensory overload awaits as you at the compact shop, where you can watch the makers at work at the cooking and coating machines then fill wood barrel after wood barrel of the stuff. And yes, they'll give you fresh, warm samples of whatever flavor they're making. A visit here also provides a history lesson in the snack food and a scientific tutorial in how it pops. Don’t leave before you gather some treats to bring home. About 30 flavors are sold at the gift shop on any given day.
The popcorn is made in the store, which is open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. greatpopcorn.com